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Am I eligible if I am a legal immigrant?

Produced by Patricia Baker and Victoria Negus
Reviewed January 2020

The SNAP eligibility rules for immigrants and refugees are very complicated. The SNAP eligibility rules affecting immigrants are different from cash assistance and MassHealth rules. See the chart in Appendix D.

If you fall into one of the three groups below, you may qualify for SNAP. See 106 C.M.R. §§362.220-362.240.

GROUP 1: Refugees, asylees and others who have fled persecution

You qualify under the SNAP eligibility requirements if you are:

■ A person who entered the U.S. as a refugee,
■ A person granted asylum after entering the U.S.,
■ A person granted withholding of deportation or removal,
■ A Cuban/Haitian entrant—defined as a national of Cuba or Haiti who has legal status, a pending application for asylum or an application for certain other statuses,
■ A Vietnamese Amerasian immigrant (e.g., the offspring of a U.S. citizen conceived during the Vietnam war),
■ A victim of trafficking in persons—such as slavery or sex trafficking— who has applied for status under a special process with the Department of Health and Human Services, or
Nationals of Iraq or Afghanistan granted a “Special Immigrant Visa” (SIV) designation. SIV holders are lawful permanent residents, many of whom worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq or Afghanistan.
If your immigration status falls under one of the above, there is NO five-year waiting period. There is also no 5-year waiting period if you got your green card (LPR status) after you had one of these refugee-type statuses.

GROUP 2: Lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders), parolees and battered immigrants

You may qualify under the SNAP rules if you are:

■ A lawful permanent resident (LPR), often called a “green card holder,”
■ Granted parolee status for one year or longer, a status generally based on humanitarian or public interest reasons, or
■ A battered immigrant who meet the requirements in question 51.

There is a five year waiting period to qualify for SNAP for some immigrant adults above. But, there is NO five year wait if you are:
■ An immigrant child under age 18,
■ You are blind or have a severe disability and you are receiving a state or federal disability benefit. See question 39, or
■ You have 40 qualifying quarters of work history. See question 49.

GROUP 3: Immigrants with other special statuses

You meet the SNAP eligibility requirements, without the 5-year waiting period, if you:
■ are a Native American born in Canada or Mexico (Native Americans born in the U.S. are already U.S. citizens),
■ were a Hmong or Highland Laotian tribe member during the Vietnam war or are the spouse, surviving spouse or unmarried dependent child of a tribe member, or
■ are a veteran of the U.S. military, an active duty service member, or the spouse, widow or dependent of a veteran or active duty service member lawfully residing in the U.S. (even if not an LPR). See 106 C.M.R. § 362.240(A) for a list of immigrants considered to be lawfully residing in the U.S.

Immigrants who are not SNAP eligible

Unless you fall within one of the above three groups, you are not eligible for SNAP for yourself. See 106 C.M.R. §362.220(D)-(G). You may still file an application for U.S. citizen or qualified immigrant dependents who meet the SNAP eligibility rules. Your income will count in determining their benefits, but you will not receive any benefits for yourself.

Examples of ineligible immigrants include:

■ Immigrant adults with LPR or parole status with less than 5 years in qualified status who are neither disabled nor have 40 quarters of countable work history. See question 48.
■ Immigrants lawfully present or have work authorization under other provisions of federal immigration law but are not “qualified” immigrants. This may include applicants for asylum, applicants for adjustment (a relative or employer petition), immigrants granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS), or other statuses.
■ An immigrant who is out-of-status or is undocumented, or
■ An immigrant with a “non-immigrant visa” such as a college student, visitor/tourist, diplomat or business visa.

See question 52 for how ineligible immigrant parents can apply for eligible children, and question 54 for a description of how income of ineligible immigrants is counted to the rest of the household.

Advocacy Reminders:

  • For copies of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Service-issued documents and a key to the USCIS immigration codes, see materials produced by National Immigration Law Center available at NILC.org/issues/economic-support/updatepage/
  • If DTA sent a request to USCIS for verification of your status, DTA should issue you for SNAP pending the results for up to 6 months (if you meet the other eligibility rules). 7 C.F.R.§ 273.2(f)(1)(ii)(B)(3) and 106 C.M.R.§ 362.220(C).
  • USCIS has a special process to correct wrong or incomplete information in SAVE. See USCIS.gov/save. You can also check your status here: USCIS.gov/save/casecheck However, you should work with an immigration specialist if you need to correct the information USCIS has in SAVE.
  • Double check if DTA says you must wait 5 years for benefits. The 5-year waiting period does not apply to: LPR children, disabled LPR adults or LPRs with sufficient work history. The 5-year wait also does not apply to LPRs who originally entered as refugees, asylees, etc. For battered immigrants, the waiting period starts from when the VAWA or a relative petition was filed and not when granted LPR status.

DTA Online Guide:

Additional Guidance:

Disabled LPRs receiving EAEDC not subject to 5 year bar if disability meets disability severity of SSI as determined by UMass Disability Evaluation Service (DES). Elderly LPRs (age 65+) not subject to 5 year bar if receiving EAEDC and can provide statement from MD re disability, no need for UMass DES review. DTA Hotline (December 2009 and October 2014)
● Detailed guidance on Cuban and Haitian nationals who qualify as Cuban/Haitian entrants and how to verify eligibility. F.O. Memo 2007-52 (Sept. 28, 2007) See also Transitions Hotline Q&A (Nov. 2011) re parolee from Cuba or Haiti may qualify without 5 year wait.
● Expired document does not mean immigrant’s legal status has expired; worker should presume immigrant may still have current legal status and do SAVE check. Transitions FYI (Oct. 2007)
Start date of 5- year waiting period begins with date immigrant granted humanitarian parole (or other qualified status) and not LPR status. Transitions Hotline Q&A, (Oct. 2011, and Q&A of May 2006)

 

 

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